"One in three Native American women will be raped at some point in their lives, a rate that is more than double that for non-Indian women, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The report, "Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA," noted a variety of reasons that rape is so prevalent on reservations, according to its authors.
In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. the Suquamish Indian Tribe that tribal governments have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. When a crime is committed, tribal police and their non-Indian counterparts must hash out whether the suspect is Indian or not.
Tribal governments lack the funds and staffing to patrol their lands, the report said. At the million-acre Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota, seven police officers are on duty. In Alaska, where state and native police patrol a vast landscape, officers took four hours to reach the village of Nunam Iqua, during which time a barricaded suspect raped a 13-year-old girl in front of her siblings.
"It is extremely frustrating," said Jason O'Neal, chief of the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department in south-central Oklahoma. "It's confusing for the victim because they don't know who they should be calling. A victim of domestic violence may call 911, the sheriff's office or our office."
As a result, victims are reluctant to report rapes because of these circumstances, the report said. When they do, their cases are often mishandled. Health facilities on native lands are so underfunded that many nurses are not trained to counsel victims of sexual assault or to use a police rape kit to gather and preserve evidence of a crime. (...)
Amnesty International's study was carried out in 2005 and 2006, drawing on victim interviews, questionnaires submitted to law enforcement officials such as police and prosecutors, and numerous reports. More than 86 percent of rapes against Native American women are carried out by non-native men, most of them white, according to the Justice Department.
The Amnesty study focused on three areas: Oklahoma, Alaska and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota. But its findings, said Virginia Davis, associate counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, are reflective of Indian country across the nation.
"It's jaw dropping," Davis said. "We've been talking about this for years. I think this is an incredibly complicated problem. Most Americans can live their daily lives and never think about it.""
There's also a good NPR story on the report here.
The legal issues involved strike non-legal me as confusing and, in some cases, downright perverse. What earthly reason is there for making the question whether tribal police can arrest a suspect depend on that suspect's ethnicity? If the suspect won't tell, do the police have to wait for some sort of evidence of ethnicity before making an arrest? As far as I can tell, the case that established this peculiar principle, Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, wasn't based on positive law, but on the absence of any explicit provision, combined with various treaties, etc., that led the Court to assume that Congress must have assumed that tribes lack jurisdiction over non-members. If so, Congress should rectify this by creating some system that actually makes sense. In addition, of course, we should fund the Indian Health Service adequately. We should also fully fund the Violence Against Women Act, which includes money for battered women's services on Native American reservations.
In the meantime, the NPR story I linked above describes one shelter that's at risk of closing for lack of funds. Pretty Bird Woman House is the only shelter on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which includes 2.3 million acres in North and South Dakota. On the list of counties with the lowest annual per capita income in the US, the two counties that make up most of the reservation ranked sixth (Sioux County ND, $7,731) and seventh (Corson County SD, $8,615.) According to the Amnesty report, 45.3 of the women on the reservation live in poverty, and the unemployment rate is 71%.
The shelter, Pretty Bird Woman House, is named for its founder's younger sister. NPR:
"Ms. JACKIE BROWN OTTER(ph) (Resident, Standing Rock Indian Reservation): I’m in McLaughlin, South Dakota. I live on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
SULLIVAN: Jackie Brown Otter lives about 30 miles from the nearest shopping center. The reservation covers 2.3 million acres. There are seven tribal patrol officers. Otter’s little sister was raped, kidnapped from her home and murdered six years ago.
Ms. OTTER: Chingkawa Wastewi(ph). That’s her Indian name. And that translates in English to Pretty Bird Woman. She smiled and she was well liked and always laughing.
SULLIVAN: It took almost a day for tribal police to arrive when Pretty Bird went missing. Her house was torn apart. A window was broken and bloody bedding was stuffed into the trash bin. It took several more days for the FBI to arrive. Her body was found later, beaten to death along a rural road. Otter opened a shelter for women at Standing Rock in her sister’s honor. But the group will run out of funding this month and will probably have to close. And still, the attacks keep coming.
Ms. OTTER: We’re so overwhelmed that we can’t see beyond the perimeters of it. It’s just beyond words for me."
One of the shelters I used to work for served (among others) a substantial Native American population, and as someone who tried her best to help Native women navigate the (cough) fascinating bureaucracies they had to work with, and to deal with various cultural issues that arose, I can attest to the fact that even the best intentions are no substitute at all for having shelters run by Native American women on reservations. Moreover, besides providing shelter and crisis hotlines and the like, shelters also provide women with a lot of important information about dealing with domestic violence and assault, and when they build up relationships over time with law enforcement personnel, they can also make a big difference in how law enforcement operates. This particular shelter also helps women get to the various places they need to go to in order to file for protective orders, get medical help, and deal with the legal system; given the sheer size of the reservation, this is invaluable.
I emailed the woman who runs the shelter (they don't have much of a web presence), and she says that they can use whatever help they can get. Most of their staff is volunteer, and they seem to work on a shoestring. nbier at dKos has more information, and is starting a ChipIn page (so far, not linked to the shelter.) I sent them some money; anyone else who wants to should send a check to:
Pretty Bird Woman House
McLaughlin South Dakota 57642